The small area of Nepal holds a considerably high number of places recognised by
UNESCO as "World Heritage Sites". There are all together ten World Heritage
Sites in Nepal, seven of which are in Kathmandu valley itself.
World Heritage Sites (Natural):
1. Everest National Park (1148 Sq. Km)
2. Royal Chitawan National Park (923 Sq. Km)
World Heritage Site (Cultural):
A golden spire crowning a conical wooded hill, Swayambhunath Stupa is the most
ancient and enigmatic of all the holy shrines in Kathmandu valley. Its lofty
white dome and glittering golden spire are visible for many miles and from all
sides of the valley. Historical records found on a stone inscription give
evidence that the stupa was already an important Buddhist pilgrimage
destination by the 5th century AD. Its origins however, date to a much earlier
time, long before the arrival of Buddhism into the valley. A collection of
legends about the site, the 15th century Swayambhu Purana, tells of a
miraculous lotus, planted by a past Buddha, which blossomed from the lake that
once covered Kathmandu valley.
The lotus mysteriously radiated a brilliant light, and the name of the place
came to be Swayambhu, meaning 'Self-Created or Self-Existent'. Saints, sages
and divinities travelled to the lake to venerate this miraculous light for its
power in granting enlightenment. During this time, the Bodhisatva Manjushri was
meditating at the sacred mountain of Wu Tai Shan and had a vision of the
dazzling Swayambhu light. Manjushri flew across the mountains of China and
Tibet upon his blue lion to worship the lotus. Deeply impressed by the power of
the radiant light, Manjushri felt that if the water were drained out of the
lake Swayambhu would become more easily accessible to human pilgrims. With a
great sword Manjushri cut a gorge in the mountains surrounding the lake. The
water, draining away, left the valley of present day Kathmandu. The lotus was
then transformed into a hill and the light became the Swayabhunath Stupa.
Swayambhunath's worshippers include Hindus, Vajrayana Buddhists of northern
Nepal and Tibet, and the Newari Buddhists of central and southern Nepal. Each
morning before dawn, hundreds of pilgrims will ascend the 365 steps that lead
up the hill, file past the gilded Vajra (Tibetan: Dorje) and two lions guarding
the entrance, and begin a series of clockwise circumambulations of the stupa
(Newari Buddhists circle in the opposite, counter clockwise direction). On each
of the four sides of the main stupa there is a pair of big eyes. These eyes are
symbolic of God's all-seeing perspective. There is no nose between the eyes but
rather a representation of the number one in the Nepali alphabet, signifying
that the single way to enlightenment is through the Buddhist path. Above each
pair of eyes is another eye, the third eye, signifying the wisdom of looking
within. No ears are shown because it is said the Buddha is not interested in
hearing prayers in praise of him
The area surrounding the stupa is filled with chaityas, temples, painted images
of deities and numerous other religious objects. There are many small shrines
with statues of Tantric and shamanistic deities, prayer wheels for the Tibetan
Buddhists, Shiva lingams (now disguised as Buddhist chaityas and decorated with
the faces of the the Dhyani Buddhas), and a popular Hindu temple dedicated to
Harati, the Goddess of smallpox and other epidemics.The presence of the Harati
Devi temple signifies the intermingling of the pantheons of Hinduism and
Buddhism in the development of the religious trends of Nepal. As Buddhists had
no deity in their own pantheon to protect against the dreaded smallpox, they
adopted the Hindu deity for assistance.
Atop Swayambhunath hill is another fascinating, though smaller and less visited
temple. This is Shantipur, the 'Place of Peace', inside of which, in a secret,
always locked, underground chamber lives the 8th century Tantric master
Shantikar Acharya. Practising meditation techniques which have preserved his
life for uncounted centuries, he is a great esoteric magician who has complete
power over the weather. When the valley of Kathmandu is threatened by drought,
the King of Nepal must enter the underground chamber to get a secret mandala
from Shantikar. Soon after the mandala is brought outside and shown to the sky,
rain begins to fall. Frescoes painted on the inside temple walls depict when
last this occurred in 1658. The small temple has a powerful atmosphere; it is
mysterious, stern and slightly ominous.
The complex of temples atop Swayambhunath hill is one of my most favorite sacred
places in the world. It was here, in 1967, when I was thirteen years old that I
first became enchanted with visiting and photographing ancient pilgrimage
shrines. Swayambhunath stupa is also called the ‘Monkey Temple’ because of the
many hundreds of monkeys who scamper about the temple at night after the
pilgrims and priests have departed. These monkeys and a hashish inspired yogi
first introduced me to the magic of sacred places. Nearby the Swayambhunath
hill are other important temples such as the Shiva Jyotir Linga temple of
Pashupatinath, Boudhanath stupa, Changu Narayan, Dakshinkali, and
Budhanilkantha. Readers interested in studying the sacred sites of the
Kathmandu valley in detail are referred to the works of Bubriski, Majupuria and
Moran listed in the bibliography.
Bouddhanath is among the largest stupas in South Asia, and it has become the
focal point of Tibetan Buddhism in Nepal. The white mound looms thirty-six
meters overhead. The stupa is located on the ancient trade route to Tibet, and
Tibetan merchants rested and offered prayers here for many centuries. When
refugees entered Nepal from Tibet in the 1950s, many of them decided to live
around Bouddhanath. They established many gompas, and the "Little Tibet" of
Nepal was born.
This "Little Tibet" is still the best place in the Valley to observe Tibetan
lifestyle. Monks walk about in maroon robes. Tibetans walk with prayer wheels
in their hands, and the rituals of prostration are presented to the Buddha as
worshippers circumambulate the stupa on their hands and knees, bowing down to
Many people believe that Bouddhanath was constructed in the fifth century, but
definite proof is lacking. The stupa is said to entomb the remains of a Kasyap
sage who is venerable both to Buddhists and Hindus. One legend has it that a
woman requested a Valley king for the donation of ground required to build a
stupa. She said she needed land covered by one buffalo's skin and her wish was
granted by the King. She cut a buffalo skin into thin strips and circled off a
fairly large clearing. The king had no choice but to give her the land.
The Bouddha area is a visual feast. Colorful thangkas, Tibetan jewellery,
hand-woven carpets, masks, and khukuri knives are sold in the surrounding
stalls. Smaller stupas are located at the base. Gompa monasteries, curio shops,
and restaurants surround Bouddhanath. Conveniently situated restaurants with
roof-top patios provide good food and excellent views of Bouddhanath.
Situated at an altitude of 1,401 m, Bhaktapur covers an area of four square
miles. Bhaktapur or "the City of Devotees" still retains the medieval charm and
visitors to this ancient town are treated with myriad wonders of cultural and
artistic achievements. The past glories of the Malla rulers continue to be
reflected at the Durbar Square. Pottery and weaving are its traditional
industries. The city lies about 14 km east of Kathmandu.
Narayan, or Vishnu, is the preserver of creation to Hindus. His temple near
Changu village is often described as the most ancient temple in the Kathmandu
Valley. A fifth century stone inscription, the oldest to be discovered in
Nepal, is located in the temple compound and it tells of the victorious King
Mandev. The temple now covers sixteen hundred years of Nepalese art history.
The temple, built around the third century, is decorated by some of the best
samples of stone, wood, and metal craft in the Valley. In the words of one
tourist guide, "When you look upon Changu Narayan, you observe the complete
cultural development of the Valley."
On the struts of the two-tiered Changu Narayan Temple, are the ten incarnations
in which Narayan destroyed evil-doers. A sixth-century stone statue shows the
cosmic form of Vishnu, while another statue recalls his dwarf incarnation when
he crushed the evil king Bali. Vishnu as Narsingha disemboweling a demon is
particularly stunning. The western bronze doors sparkle in the evening
sunlight, dragons decorate the bells, and handsome devas stare from the walls.
Garuda, half man and half bird, is the steed of Vishnu, and his life-sized
statue kneels before the temple. The favourite of many tourists is the statue
of Vishnu sitting astride his steed.
Pashupatinath is the holiest Hindu pilgrimage destination in Nepal. There are
linga images of Shiva along with statues, shrines, and temples dedicated to
other deities in the complex. A temple dedicated to Shiva existed at this site
in AD 879. However, the present temple was built by King Bhupatindra Malla in
1697. A gold-plated roof, silver doors, and woodcarvings of the finest quality
decorate the pagoda construction.
A circuit of the Pashupati area takes visitors past a sixth-century statue of
the Buddha, an eighth-century statue of Brahma the creator and numerous other
temples. Some other places to visit are Rajrajeswari Temple, built in 1407,
Kailas with lingas more than 1,400 years old, Gorakhnath temple, and the
courtyard of Biswarup. There are rows of Shiva shrines and Hindu pilgrims from
all over South Asia offer worship to Shiva, the Lord of Destruction.
The Bagmati River flows close by and the Arya Ghat cremation grounds are here.
We strongly advise photographers not to take photos of cremations and of
bereaved families. Sadhus, sages who follow the lifestyle of Shiva, may be seen
covered in ashes and loin-cloths. They ask for money in case you want to take
their photos. The main Pashupatinath courtyard may be entered by those of Hindu
6. Kathmandu Durbar Square
It is easy to be overwhelmed by the seemingly uncountable monuments in the
Kathmandu Durbar Square. The house of the Living Goddess ( Kumari Ghar ), the
ferocious Kal Bhairab, the red monkey god, and hundreds of erotic carvings are
a few examples of the sights at the Square!
The buildings here are the greatest achievements of the Malla dynasty, and they
resulted from the great rivalry between the three palaces of Kathmandu, Patan,
and Bhaktapur. The Valley was divided among the children of Yaksya Malla. For
visitors today, and for the Nepalese, it was serendipitous that they, and later
their offsprings, began an artistic warfare trying to outdo each other in
splendid constructions.Kings copied everything their neighbours built in an
even grander style. A visitor who wanders around the Square will see a round
temple in the pagoda architectural style, the temple of Goddess Taleju (legend
has it that She played dice with King Jaya Prakash Malla), and an image of
Shiva and Parbati sitting together among the many monuments.
7. Patan Durbar Square
This whole square is a cluster of fine pagoda temples and stone statues; it is
at the same time the business hub of the city. At every step one comes across a
piece of art or an image of a deity, testifying to the consummate skill of
Patan's anonymous artists. The ancient palace of the Malla kings and the stone
baths associated with various legends and episodes of history are especially
interesting to visitors. The stone temple of Lord Krishna and the Royal Bath
(Tushahity) with its intricate stone and bronze carvings are two other
masterpieces in the same vicinity.
Shakyamuni Buddha was born in Lumbini, in southern Nepal, twenty-five hundred
years ago. Since his time, Nepal has been a sacred ground for Buddhists as the
birthplace of the Buddha. Lumbini is a small town in the southern Terai plains
of Nepal, where the ruins of the old city can still be seen. Shakyamuni Buddha
was born to a royal family
Lumbini has been a holy ground for Buddhists all over the world. The restored
garden and surroundings of Lumbini have the remains of many of the ancient
stupas and monasteries. A large stone pillar erected by the Indian Emperor
Ashoka in 250 BC bears an inscription about the birth of the Buddha.
An important part of Lumbini is the temple of Maya Devi. It has a stone image of
Maya Devi giving birth to Lord Buddha as she holds onto a branch. It has been
well worn by the strokes of barren women hoping for fertility. To the south of
the temple is a pool where Queen Maya Devi is said to have bathed and given her
son his first purification bath.
A quiet garden, shaded by the leafy Bo tree (the type of tree under which Buddha
received enlightenment), and a newly-planted forest nearby lend an air of
tranquillity which bespeaks Buddha's teachings. Lumbini is now being developed
under the Master Plan of the Lumbini Development Trust, a non governmental
organization dedicated to the restoration of Lumbini and its development as a
pilgrimage site. The plan, completed in 1978 by the renowned Japanese architect
Kenzo Tange, will transform three square miles of land into a sacred place of
gardens, pools, buildings, and groves. The development will include a Monastic
Zone, the circular sacred Garden surrounding the Ashoka pillar and Maya Devi
temple, and Lumbini Village, where visitors will find lodges, restaurants, a
cultural center and tourist facilities.
An important archeological site near Lumbini, Kapilvastu evokes the ancient
palace where Lord Buddha spent his formative years. Scattered foundations of
the palace are abundant, and archeologists have by now discovered 13 successive
layers of human habitation dating back to the eighth century BC. A must for
archeological and historical buffs!
Besides its religious and historical significance, Lumbini offers cultural
insights into the village life of southern Nepal. If possible, try to coincide
your visit with the weekly Monday bazaar when villagers come from miles around
to buy grains, spices, pottery, jewellery, saris and various other items. It
may appear as a scene out of the Arabian Nights, with colorful merchandise
spread out under the mango trees and the air perfumed with incense. It's a
chance to bargain for souvenirs while witnessing local life in Lumbini. Wooden
ox-carts loaded with hay trundle by. Villagers dry cow-dung for fuel, and tea
stalls serve sweet milk tea.
Today, Lumbini is beginning to receive travellers' and archaeologists' attention
after centuries of neglect. Serious preservation work has only just been
started in the latter half of this century and Lumbini as a slice of history is
worth seeing and worth preserving.